College: I am currently a junior at Case Western Reserve University
Description of project worked on: The two projects that I had the opportunity to get the most involved with were the drug binding mutations project and the patient derived PPP2R1A mutations project. The drug binding mutations project focuses on targeting the specific sites where the SMAPs (small molecule activators of PP2A) are thought to bind the A-Alpha subunit. It was hypothesized that mutations that were introduced to the A-Alpha subunit within the hypothesized binding region would prevent PP2A reactivation through SMAP therapy. Mutating these sites resulted in altered response to SMAP therapy, where 2 point mutants no longer responded to therapy and one mutation responded equal to wild type. Further testing needs to be done to biochemically study the interaction between SMAPs and the interaction sites in WT PP2A and mutated PP2A. In the patient derived PPP2R1A mutations project, I focused on studying mutations in the A-Alpha subunit of PP2A such as the R183W mutation and its effect on protein interaction between PP2A and other proteins such as TIPRL1. The R183W mutation was seen to cause an increased binding of TIPRL to the C-subunit of PP2A. I hypothesized that if TIPRL is knocked out, PP2A would normalize its activity and resume its function as a tumor suppressor.
Mentor and years in program: My mentor was Daniel Leonard and I participated in the program during the summer of 2016.
Skills obtained: During the 10-week period that I was working in the lab I learned to transform bacteria, transfect and transduce cells. After transduction we performed various tests to validate and test hypotheses. I also learned to treat and sacrifice mice to collect and study malignant cell growth. I learned to harvest cells to later perform western blots/develop RNA extractions. I studied quantifying the protein concentrations for western blots and sequence RNA. Additionally, I learned the Co-IP technique to study protein interaction and I also learned q-PCR, RT-PCR and PCR.
Future professional aspirations: In the future I would like to become a plastic surgeon and continue doing cancer research.
What influenced your interest in research?
My focus on cancer research was influenced by my mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to contribute and try to come up with a better treatment to target cancer and lower the severity of the side effects. Since chemotherapy is known to cause physical and emotional side effects, I believe that research can offer innovative treatments that might be more selective, effective and less painful to patients that have cancer.
How did you hear about the program?
I heard about the program from Dr. Goutham Narla as I came one day into his lab looking for a research opportunity to study cancer.
How did you know you were ready to take the next step and work in the lab? Did you have any reservations?
I knew I was ready to work in the lab once I took all of the chemistry and biology courses that could help me get more involved in research. I was looking for a challenge to learn and contribute to medicine. I wanted to connect what I learned in books to something real that I could see and relate to.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about programs like these?
I believe the biggest misconception about research is the underestimation of the amount and complexity of the work that needs to be done to achieve scientific breakthroughs. Completing an experiment could take years and it requires a lot of teamwork to fit all the puzzle pieces together to develop conclusions. I had the opportunity to see some of the processes behind drug development and it is quite complex.
Another misconception students often have is that they will not be allowed to do significant work, but in reality you become very helpful and begin to speed up the pace of the lab once you are properly trained.
How did you overcome some of the insecurities you faced early on in your training?
I tried to read as much as I could even if I did not understand some of the details. I was very inquisitive and I talked to my mentor Daniel Leonard so he could give me more research papers to read about PP2A to grasp the important concepts. I also attended all the lab presentations to understand what the other people in the lab were investigating so that I could relate it to the experiment that I was working on.
What is the mentorship relationship like? How would you describe your mentor?
The mentorship relationship is similar to a professor/student relationship. My mentor helped me develop a sense of autonomy and confidence to trust in myself. Every time he had the chance he asked me questions to test my knowledge and keep me on my toes. All the other mentors in the lab were very open to questions and they truly helped students understand their doubts. I would describe my mentor as a knowledgeable individual that is sensitive to the needs of students who are surrounded by advanced researchers.
Can you describe the atmosphere in the lab?
The atmosphere in the lab is a concentrated research environment surrounded by many people that are happy to answer your questions.
What did your parents think about you joining the program?
My parents thought that it would be a good idea for me to learn what a researcher does. They also believed it would serve as an opportunity to explore the connection between research and medicine. My parents were excited to learn that this program offered the opportunity to interact with real researchers and physicians that could offer advice to help me in my future career as an aspiring doctor and scientist.
What was the most challenging thing for you on the first day in the lab?
The most challenging thing on the first day in the lab was to get adjusted to the work schedule and work pace. I also did not know where some things were located around the lab but with time I adjusted quickly thanks to my mentor and peers.
What was the most relieving thing?
I got the most relieving feeling every time an experiment I did yielded good results. The first time I transferred a western blot gel without ripping it, was a great moment of happiness when I saw my mentor’s face. Also at the end of the training I realized I had learned a lot due to the support of my mentor and peers.
How was this experience memorable to you?
The experience was memorable because it was a fun way to learn about biology, chemistry and medicine while making friends. I just loved the fact that I learned so much and was able to experience the complexity of the research process.
What is the most beneficial thing you believe you learned during your training?
The most beneficial thing I learned during the training with The Young Scientist Foundation was getting to know how researchers thinks and test their hypotheses. I also learned that patience is a very important skill to have because experiments sometimes do not turn out the way you wanted them to. I learned that research and medicine are connected and that they guide humanity into a more hopeful future. This experience has helped me mature as a scientist and the knowledge acquired will definitely guide my future career.
For those considering applying for the program what would you advise?
If you are a student looking for a real research experience that challenges you and allows you to contribute, then this program is right for you. The Young Scientist Foundation has many resources that will aid in your development as a scientist. Furthermore, this training is a commitment that needs to be taken seriously, but if a career in medicine or research is where your interests lie then it is all worth it.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the idea that I could help patients and their families cope with cancer more positively by discovering a new treatment that might be more effective and less painful. My parents are my inspiration since they are the ones that have given me the privilege to study what I love.
What are you thankful for?
I am thankful for all the privileges, good health, parental support and opportunities that life has given me. I am thankful to Dr. Narla and my mentor Daniel Leonard for the opportunity to contribute to science and the community. I am also thankful for the patience and availability of Rita Tohme for teaching me and letting me participate in the drug binding mutations project.
What are you concentrating on now?
I am concentrating on the MCAT and medical school applications. I am also concentrating on graduating from Case Western Reserve University with a B.S. in Biology.